Banff National Park is Canada's oldest national park. It was established in 1885 in the Canadian Rockies, 120km west of Calgary. It covers 6641 square kilometres of mountainous terrain and has many glaciers and icefields, dense coniferous forest and alpine landscapes.
The Icefields Parkway extends from Lake Louise, connecting to Jasper National Park in the north. Provincial forests and Yoho National Park are neighbours to the west, with Kootenay National Park to the south and Kananaskis Country to the south-east. The main commercial centre of the park is the town of Banff in the Bow River valley.
The Canadian Pacific Railway was instrumental in Banff's early years, building the Banff Springs Hotel and Chateau Lake Louise.
In the early 20th century, roads were built in Banff, and since the 1960s, park accommodations have been open year-round with enormous numbers of tourists enjoying this very special place.
While visitor numbers can reach 4 million a year, because Banff is in both a National Park and World Heritage Site, its growth is closely controlled. It will never be more than four square kilometres in size and never have a population of more than 10,000 people. To live there, you have to work there.
Canada's indigenous people were the first to soak in the hot springs. The waters were sacred to them, and a place to cure illness and maintain health.
Canadian Pacific Railway workers claimed to have discovered the Upper Hot Springs in 1884, and dammed a small pool. A rival claimant resulted in a dispute over the ownership of the hot springs, and that led to government intervention and the birth of Canada's first national park.
The Grand View Villa hotel was built near the hot springs in 1886 and rebuilt in 1901 after it was destroyed by a fire. A second fire levelled the Grand View in 1931 paving the way for the government to acquire the lease and build the current Upper Hot Springs bath house.
The new bath house opened in 1932 and rivalled other world famous spas of the time. The Upper Hot Springs Bathhouse was designed as one of a number of 1930s park buildings which together were intended to create a distinctive architecture for Banff.
A Queen Anne revival or a compatible, late medieval architectural style was adopted. The styles were modified to give the buildings a somewhat "alpine" or "rustic" appearance, and timber and local Rundle stone rock were used to complete the picture.
The pool was reconstructed and the interior modified in 1961. The 1932 bathhouse was restored to its former glory in 1995 with a C$4 million ($4.3 million) upgrade and is now a registered federal heritage building. The water can reach 47C, but it is cooled down to get it just right for bathers.
Just five minutes from the town, on the shoulder of Sulphur Mountain, is Banff Gondola. In the heart of the Canadian Rockies its 360-degree views are simply breathtaking. It has viewing decks, a restaurant and a Summit Ridge interpretive boardwalk. It takes eight minutes to reach the 2281m summit.
The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel was completed in the 1920s. Styled after a Scottish baronial castle, it has 800 rooms and numerous dining areas, bars and public areas. Heritage Hall above the Grand Lobby highlights the natural and cultural history of the area.
It has stunning sweeping mountain and river views, championship golf course, classic cuisine and a recently refurbished European-style spa.